Sign of the Times

Donald Trump is our national obsession. Almost six weeks after the election and on the eve of Christmas and Hanukkah he is topic A at every gathering. People have Post Traumatic Trump Disorder and feel compelled to share their thoughts and feelings, their joy — “I can’t stop feeling happy!” said a normally contained editor and intellectual, to his own surprise — and despair. My world is full of Hillary Clinton supporters and intimates. At a Manhattan Christmas party last week a despairing Democrat told me that she had not only wept on election night she had vomited. She was still beside herself.[1]

The truest and most profound revelations are often those advanced by they who do (or seem) not to realize the ramifications of what they are declaring. I encountered such a moment recently from one familiar to me, who is given to victimization, exaggeration, lies, blatant slanders, and lawsuits. She has long accused one of her parents of abuse; the extent of the charge which I have never found particularly credible considering that I have had past dealings with that same person. Admittedly, there are individuals particularly adept in presenting a pleasing, or least innocuous public persona while being gargoyles in private.

However, in recent conversations, she confided that this parent would go into her bedroom every night when she was a child and be a “real and loving mother,” apologizing for any excesses that may have occurred during the daily rants; (rants which I had observed). And it struck me, although I doubt the same insight occurred to my interlocutor, that this daily habit of asking forgiveness and reconciliation is stereotypical of the perpetrators of abuse. I had doubted any wild charges claimed by one prone to mendacity unless I had personally observed them. But this unintended revelation gave some credibility to her story.

Now Peggy Noonan, the author of the quote above, is by no means given to mendacity. She continues to be among the top three of my favorite American journalists/pundits, along with Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept and Conor Federspiel of The Atlantic; diamonds among the dung of advocacy and sycophantic journalism; all with a different basis of appeal, but with a common commitment to the pursuit of intellectual integrity in their scribblings.

Noonan’s particular gift is in absorbing the mood and comprehending the soul of her nation; which some might denigrate as a more primitive form of “intelligence.”[2] Yet, despite all of the political theory written by the self-identifying rationalists of ancient Greece, including that template of all ensuing political dystopias, Plato’s Republic; Hellenist civilization was incapable of establishing enduringly stable and peaceable city states and thereafter kingdoms. Alexander’s Empire took but ten years to disintegrate into quadrants. (It took Imperial Rome about three centuries to accomplish half that feat.) And large reason for that political incompetency was the Hellenists’ denigration of the “lizard brain,” and consequent lack of “emotional intelligence.”

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For years before the present epochal moment, Noonan has registered an unease that there exists an unrest stirring beyond the culturally gated community of the Versaillean elites of the Potomac and Hudson. The natives are restless. But whether Noonan realizes the historical significance of a republic’s obsession with a particular leader of the moment cannot be garnered from the article in which she observes and reports the phenomenon.

The republican ideal not only seeks to disperse socioeconomic and political power between many power bases so as to make the rise of tyrannical rule and oppression that much more difficult. A healthy republic requires a morally and politically competent populace, from within which a good many men of nobler qualities would arise to contemporary notability. Yet none becomes a colossus bestriding the narrow world [under which] “petty men walk under his legs and peep about.”[3] Indeed, Cincinnatus, who was appointed dictator for short durations in 458 and 438 BC in order to deal with immediate national emergencies was the model to which both early Roman[4] and American republicans aspired.[5] Even a major American city is named after him. After doing his tour of duty, the Roman patrician would return to his austere and modest lifestyle as a plougher of fields, to retire into a quiet life on his farm, under his vine and fig tree.[6]

But since JFK, whose hubris, whether in his nation and/or in himself, thought it possible and prudent to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty,” there has emerged a fawning adoration for a new class of Caesarians while congressional legislators have in comparison become petty and venal men walking betwixt the columns of the elected demigod.

Indeed, there has likewise emerged a new class of Eusebian apologists singing paeans to these new Constantines.[7]

I think Barack knew that he had God-given talents that were extraordinary. He knows exactly how smart he is. … He knows how perceptive he is. He knows what a good reader of people he is. And he knows that he has the ability — the extraordinary, uncanny ability — to take a thousand different perspectives, digest them and make sense out of them, and I think that he has never really been challenged intellectually. … So what I sensed in him was not just a restless spirit but somebody with such extraordinary talents that had to be really taxed in order for him to be happy. … He’s been bored to death his whole life. He’s just too talented to do what ordinary people do.[8]

It is unimaginable that the present occupant of the White House, that initiator of that “moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal,”[9] could ever deign to return to the common life, and certainly not to the cotton fields.

When a nation and its populace increasingly place such singular political privilege and regard upon its primus inter pares (“first among equals”), its princeps; it is little wonder that when their champion loses out, some might stress,[10] put on the pounds, lose their libido, and sell all their possessions in preparation for their own personal apocalypse.[11] In an age of mice, actual men appear as giants (nephilim – Numbers 13:33).

Well before the actual demise of a free civic polity and the establishment of a new autocracy, there is required an increasingly fawning and servile mindset in the populace and the laying of the ideological and cultural foundations of a new political paradigm and milieu in order to “prepare ye the way of the lord”, to abuse the Biblical intent of that phrase (Mark 1:3, Isaiah 40:3).

 

© Copyright John Hutchinson 2017

 

[1] Peggy Noonan, “The Smartest Thing I Heard in 2016,” The Wall Street Journal, December 22, 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-smartest-thing-i-heard-in-2016-1482450561.

[2] Joe Klein, “Donald Trump’s Lizard Brain,” Time, February 18, 2016, http://time.com/4228885/donald-trump-lizard-brain/; John Oliver, “Canadian Election,” Last Week with John Oliver (HBO), October 15, 2015, [YouTube] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0V5ckcTSYu8.

[3] William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, 1599, Act 1, Scene 2.

[4] Plutarch, “The Life of Cato the Elder,” ca. 75 AD, translated by Bernadotte Perrin in The Parallel Lives (Vol. 2), Harvard University Press, 1914.

[5] Rob Hardy, “Cincinnatus,” The Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington, accessed January 2, 2017, http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/cincinnatus/.

[6] Joel Achenbach, “George Washington could have been a strongman, but kept giving power away,” The Washington Post, July 28, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/achenblog/wp/2016/07/28/remembering-the-miracle-in-philadelphia-and-george-washingtons-greatest-acts/?utm_term=.ea5cc3706ed3.

[7] Eusebius, “The Life of Constantine, Oration of Constantine to the Assembly of the Saints, and Oration of Eusebius in Praise of Constantine,” early 4th century AD, in Volume 1, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, translated by Bagsley, ed. by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, Edinburgh: T & T Clark; Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1890, pp. 1040–1544.

[8] David Remnick, The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama, New York: Vintage Books, 2010, p. 274.

[9] Senator Barack Obama, Remarks on Final Primary Night, St. Paul, MN: June 3, 2008, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/06/03/obamas-nomination-victory_n_105028.html.

[10] Paul Schwartzman, “Psychologists and massage therapists are reporting ‘Trump anxiety’ among clients,” The Washington Post, March 6, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/how-do-we-know-america-is-anxious-about-a-president-trump-shrinks-and-massage-therapists/2016/03/03/e5b55a22-e0bb-11e5-846c-10191d1fc4ec_story.html?utm_term=.c2174a3a037c.

[11] Jim Geraghty, “The Season of Liberal Panic,” National Review, December 27, 2016, http://www.nationalreview.com/article/443355/donald-trump-liberal-hysteria-unhealthy-politically-counterproductive.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics (Re: Why This Recovery Is So Lousy – WSJ)

“Truth,” it has been said, “is the first casualty of war.” – Philip Snowden[i]

A theme, long sustained within conservative economic circles, is that FDR’s New Deal crippled the recovery and prolonged the Great Depression. Screeds, like the following by Phil Gramm, a not insignificant player in legislative assemblies past, is stereotypical of this meme.

In all recoveries following all 30 economic contractions since 1870, only two have failed to have strong rebounds after deep recessions. Only two are now labeled “Great” because of the long periods of suffering they caused. And in only two recoveries did government impose economic policies radically different from the policies pursued in all the other recoveries—different than traditional policy but similar to each other— FDR’s Great Depression and Mr. Obama’s Great Recession.

From 1932-36, federal spending skyrocketed 77%, the national debt rose by over 73%, and top tax rates more than tripled, from 25% to 79%. But the tectonic shift brought about by the New Deal was the federal government’s involvement in the economy, as a tidal wave of new laws were enacted and more executive orders were issued than by all subsequent presidents combined through President Clinton . . .

. . . As government assumed greater control, private investment collapsed, averaging only 40% of the 1929 level for nine consecutive years. League of Nations data show that by 1938, in five of the six most-developed countries in the world industrial production was on average 23% above 1929 levels, but in the U.S. it was still down by 10%. Employment in five of the six major developed countries averaged 12% above the pre-Depression levels while U.S. employment was still down by 20%. Before the Great Depression, real per capita GDP in the U.S. was about 25% larger than it was in Britain. By 1938, real per capita GDP in Britain was slightly higher than in the U.S.

Considering that in the four years following FDR’s ascension, the American economy grew at 10.88, 8.88, 13.05, and 5.12 percent respectively, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA); or 10.74, 8.92, 12.91, and 5.23 percent respectively, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce; I am not quite sure what would constitute a strong bounce back for these partisans. There certainly has not existed any comparable rebound since.

This revisionist representation of the Great Depression abounds in sophistries and what we, in biblical circles, would call statistical proof-texting. Why, for instance, include years 1929 to 1932/3, a period when private investment totally collapsed, in determining the impact of New Deal policies from 1933 onward? (With inordinate price and asset deflation between late 1930 and mid-1933, investing one’s money in one’s mattress or backyard garden guaranteed that “investor” a 5–10% real return tax free.)

Nor is it fruitful to compare with other industrial nations without also mentioning that except for Germany and Canada, the economic downturn in America from 1929 to 1932/3 was considerably greater. Great Britain is, in particular, an egregious ploy, considering that the Great Depression was for Britain, a Great Recession within a Long Depression which began after WW1.

The national debt may have increased 73% in nominal terms from 1932–6. But as a percentage of GDP, it only increased from 32.5% to 40% during very trying times.[ii] Even so, comparing federal revenues and expenditures from (June) 1932 instead of (June) 1933, when Republican President Herbert Hoover governed for 8 of those 12 interim months, is but more statistical gamesmanship. In the final two years of the prior Republican administration, federal spending as a percentage of GDP was 10 (1932) and 13.5 (1933) percent respectively. Prior to WW2, FDR’s administration, except for 1934 (17%), never topped the last year of Hoover’s administration.

Indeed, FDR seemed not to have been particularly sold on Keynesian economics, which dominates the current economic thinking in Obama’s White House. Indeed, while John Maynard Keynes had hitherto expressed some rudimentary musings on his thesis, his The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money was only published in 1936. Deficit spending during WW2 was mandated far more from existential survival than economic theory.

Did Gramm also fail to mention that Hoover’s administration deemed it necessary to raise top income tax rates to 63% in 1932?

Considering how easily accessible the extant documentation is to refute Gramm’s assertions, articles like these constitute an incompetent form of mendacity. Does The Wall Street Journal seek to vie with Vox for the gold medal in Mendacity in American Journalism.

[i] Philip Snowden, Introduction to Truth and the War, by E. D. Morel, (London: National Labor Press Ltd., 1916), p. vii.

[ii] GDP in 1932 was $60 billion, national debt $19.5. In 1936, the figures are $85B and $33.8B respectively.

Interpreting the Signs of the Times

One of the bloggers, I follow, as somewhat of a Dionysian foil to my severe Apollonic propensity is Rick Marschall. I may not always concur with the views of this “social critic, political commentator, and Christian writer.” But I, nevertheless, cherish one those cultivated rarities who are well-informed about their own heritage. However, Mr. Marschall occasionally galvanizes a reaction such as in his recent article, People of Faith Ask, to Trump or not to Trump, which complacently soothsays that the current commotion in the American body politic is not unlike those of yesteryear. Mr. Marschall thereupon gives a fairly detailed history of past political turmoils in his nation; particulars, much of which supplement my own knowledge; and as is therefore much appreciated.

I tend to look upon history more from the perspective of broad ideological, cultural, and social trends. Furthermore, as a student of world history, I will situate American history and politics within the context of a larger ideological narrative with sociopolitical consequences. Whereas, you will find many Americans, such as George Will, unable to think outside of their Exceptionalist box. Historical and external events are measured in the context of American situation and psyche, a civic form of (Ayn) Randian egoism, which I would suggest poses a great noetic stagnation.

It is not unusual for persons dwelling inside the kettle of a society to be oblivious to the tumult that is about to occur within their midst; and when it begins, to be freshly surprised on frequent basis as new travesties and atrocities unfold. I, on the other hand, am inclined to be on the side of the Chicken Littles.

However, this tumult in the U.S. has been anticipated, as has been claimed elsewhere, since the late 1980s. Events since then have pretty well gone to script of previous run ups to civic conflagration. And indeed, I have noticed in the last couple of years, a remarkably dizzying acceleration in the disintegration of the social peace and cohesion such that I am having problems catching up. Continue reading “Interpreting the Signs of the Times”

The Mendacity of Modern Journalism – Exhibit “A”

Rumors seep from the guilds of journalism of a pervasive belief therein that since impartial objectivity is impossible to attain, the bar should be lowered. But in that all fall short of any standard that is set, the invariable logic of lowering bars invariably produces a vortex of mediocrity. Thereby, honest reporting devolves into advocacy journalism and thereafter blatant sycophantic propaganda. That is certainly one plausible explanation for the contemporary state of affairs.

Today’s champion of journalistic mendacity comes from left-liberal ezine, Vox, not particularly notorious for noetic integrity. I stumbled upon an article by Vox’s Matthew Yglesias through a well-meaning but inept op-ed by David Brooks of The New York Times, who cited  Yglesias’  summation of another source, without validating the veracity of that summation.

The issue involves immigration and illegal immigration in the context of Donald Trump’s recent burps of authenticity; and in particular the claims that immigration harms the “incomes of native-born Americans on average.”

Continue reading “The Mendacity of Modern Journalism – Exhibit “A””